Momentum Carries Force Hood into Summit Nationals
NORWALK, Ohio – Ten years before Ashley Force Hood was even a glimmer in her dad's eye, Helen Reddy and Ray Burton penned a lyric that today perfectly describes the 26-year-old's exceedingly realistic bid to become the first woman to win the NHRA Funny Car Championship.
Could there be a more appropriate anthem for a woman who plies her trade in an 8,000 horsepower, 300 mile-an-hour Ford Mustang than "I am woman, hear me roar?'" Not likely.
The first woman to reach a Funny Car final, the first to win a Funny Car race and the first to qualify for the NHRA's Countdown to the Championship, Ashley roars into Summit Motorsports Park for this week's third annual Summit Racing Equipment Nationals with her destiny clearly in sight.
After all, the daughter of drag racing icon John Force has taken her Castrol GTX® Mustang to the final round in five of the last eight races in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series, has started from No. 1 more often this year than any other driver and, as a result, trails pacesetting Tony Pedregon by just 20 points – one competitive round – in the battle to determine who will be the No. 1 seed for the playoffs.
Although everyone basically will start from scratch once the 10 eligible drivers are determined following the Labor Day Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind., Ashley is focused on being No. 1 at both the start and finish of the Countdown.
"The next few races are going to be (run in) hot temperatures," said the graduate of Cal State-Fullerton, "and we have a car that runs good in the heat. It's great to be moving up in points, but we're gonna keep our sights set on that No. 1 spot. We just kind of need to stay focused."
As for her three straight runner-up finishes, the last two to former series champion Tony Pedregon, Ashley is philosophical.
"You always want to win and you're bummed when you don't," she said, "but the important thing is that our Mustang is running really well in all kinds of conditions.
"It's a great feeling to go to the semis and finals, week after week (so) we'll just keep trying to do that and see what happens."
Although she's been driving well, the former high school cheerleader credits crew chiefs Dean "Guido" Antonelli and Ron Douglas for giving her a car that, week-in and week-out, has been the top performer in the class.
"You're not going to win championships being timid," she said, "and I think that's why we've been near the top (of the points) all year. My crew chiefs haven't been afraid to take chances. Sometimes they work; sometimes they don't, but now is the time – before we get to the Countdown."
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Did You Know?
– Ashley was the 2008 winner of the Auto Club's Road to the Future Award as the NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year. – Ashley's Castrol GTX Ford Mustang was the fastest Funny Car at the 1,000 foot distance in 2008 (310.05 mph) and is the fastest at the same distance this year (312.13 mph). Her Ford has been fastest at four of the 11 races contested thus far this year.
– Ashley was one of only four Funny Car points leaders last year along with teammate Robert Hight, Tim Wilkerson and eventual champion Cruz Pedregon.
– In her first 56 pro events, Ashley qualified No. 1 eight times, appeared in 10 final rounds and won two races while suffering three qualifying failures, all in her rookie year. In his first 56 races, her dad never started from No. 1, suffered 10 DNQs and never won a race although he did appear in six final rounds.
Off the Track:
– Asked by NASCAR Illustrated if she ever considered taking a turn around an oval track, Ashley said: "My whole life I've been around drag racing and focused on short bursts of speed. I don't know how they drive those cars for three hours. I couldn't make it without going to the bathroom. Besides, a top speed of 200 mph seems pretty slow to me."
– Ashley appears with brother-in-law Robert Hight in a regional TV ad for the Auto Club of Southern California and is a spokesperson for Castrol, Ford, BrandSource and others.
– Ashley was recognized in 2008 as the Female Athlete of the Year by the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation in Los Angeles.
– Ashley and her cat, Simba, were the subjects of a photo shoot with photographer David Woo for an upcoming coffee table book featuring celebrities and their pets.
– Ashley was one of the stars of the real life series "Driving Force," which aired for two seasons on A&E Network, chronicling her development as a race car driver.
– Ashley was among a group of drivers and NHRA sponsors who participated in the Opening Bell ceremony at the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday, June 10. She was joined by BP/Castrol executive Marci Brand, Regional Vice-President, Automotive Americas, as well as by drivers Antron Brown, Bob Tasca III, Morgan Lucas, Karen Stoffer, Tony Pedregon and Eddie Krawiec.
– Ashley's younger sisters, Brittany, 22, and Courtney, 21, are competing this week in the Top Alcohol Dragster class in cars sponsored by BrandSource and Sanyo, respectively.